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Late Victorian Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder by J Hicks, London


A late Victorian Campbell-Stokes Sunshine recorder by J Hicks.

This interesting piece of meteorological equipment is formed from a cast iron and black painted base with a glass sphere to the centre and solid brass mounted adjustable collar surrounding the sphere. In the collar are placed specially designed sunshine recording cards (still available) to allow for summer and winter sun positions in the sky. The recorder works by focussing the sun’s rays through the glass sphere and burning a line in the recording paper as the sun passes overhead. The design is so simple and elegant that it remains in use today by meteorologists without change.

The piece also retains a brass plaque stating the maker’s name J Hicks and the address of 8, 9 & 10 Hatton Gardens meaning that this instrument was created after 1885 when the business premises were expanded to incorporate numbers 9 & 10.

Originally invented in 1853 by John Francis Campbell, the first design consisted only of a glass sphere within a wooden bowl where, the recording would be taken by measuring the burn line on the wood itself. In 1879, Sir George Gabriel Stokes refined Campbell’s invention by fitting a metal collar to the design and thus allowing for the recording to be converted to cards that could be removed and replaced as required.

This particular instrument was manufactured by the great scientific instrument maker, James Joseph Hicks. Hicks was born in Cork, Ireland in 1837 to a poor farming family and was sent to London for schooling. He was apprenticed to the famous Louis P Casella where he remained until 1861. In that short time he had already risen to become Casella’s foreman, showing just how able the young Hicks was. He began to trade in his own right in around 1861-1862 at 8 Hatton Gardens, London and was respected enough by 1864 to have been granted membership to The British Meteorological Society.

Highly skilled in the development and the improvement of scientific instruments, Hick’s business was large enough by 1880 to have over 300 employees on the books. A shrewd marketer, he was present at eight Royal Society Exhibitions during the period, 1876 – 1913 and extended his reach overseas by attending numerous world trade fairs. He won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris exhibition.

In 1910 at the age of 73, he successfully negotiated a merger between his company and the equally famous WF Stanley and remained a director of the company that retained his name until his death in 1916.

During his life he established a near monopoly on clinical thermometers leading to Hick’s being dubbed, “King of the Clinicals”.

Circa 1900

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